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The You I Never Knew was written, sold to a publisher, and edited…and then it was orphaned. In publishing, this means the editor who acquired it moved on while the book was in production. This is usually not the best news for a book,  because that acquiring editor loved the book and was its in-house cheerleader. The project was handed off to a new editor. This is a bit like getting a foster child you didn’t ask for.

In my case, it turned out to be a mixed blessing. They were right in the middle of designing the cover, and it looked like this:

cover never used on the you i never knew

the art i never used on the you i never knew

literary collection of stories

Now, this is a fine piece of original art. The design and layout are Image result for the horse whisperer nicholas evansreminiscent of both The Horse Whisperer and a Nicholas Sparks cover, so those are pluses. It also looks a bit like Annie Proulx’s Close Range.

Does this mean the cover is right for this book? Probably not. First of all, The You I Never Knew would be a paperback original, not a hardcover book, so the art needs to “pop” on the shelf in order to stand out. The colors of this cover are muted and the mood is chilly. It might work on a hardcover jacket, but it doesn’t look instantly warm and inviting, like a “feel-good” novel.

The new editor came into the middle of cover design, knowing nothing about me or the book. There was a bright spot, though. The new editor was the extremely smart Maggie Crawford, and she was the kind of foster mother the book needed–an experienced editor who understood the market for this book. She’d worked with many bestselling authors and had a fine eye for marketing women’s fiction. She took on the cover art issue with aplomb, and came up with this.

The You I Never KnewIt’s one of the least-relevant yet most commercial covers I’ve ever had. Here’s my analysis: Splashing my name on the cover in huge letters gave the illusion that this was a big book by a big author. The lettering itself–big, graceful block lettering–was reminiscent of the font used for blockbuster author Sandra Brown. 22 Indigo PlaceAnd of course, it capitalizes on the galloping popularity of the biggest novel of the ’90s, The Horse Whisperer. Cover Image

So I’m back on track, right? My new editor rescued the novel from obscurity and now all I’d need to do is kick back and let the sales roll in. Oh, and I’d be working with Maggie on the next book, brainstorming the plot and building on the success of The You I Never Knew. Right? Right?

NOT.

The lovely and talented foster-editor for this book was so lovely and talented that another publisher hired her away. By the time my novel was published for the first time, there was no one home. My calls were fielded by hapless assistant. With no in-house cheerleader, no marketing budget, and no PR, my book was destined to die of slow strangulation in that publishing twilight zone known as “the midlist.” If sales were poor, the publisher wouldn’t want anymore books from me, and my days as an author were numbered.

BUT.

I had a secret weapon, and that secret weapon was YOU. The You I Never Knew, aka READERS.

One of the great things about publishing is that readers don’t care what a book’s marketing budget is. They don’t care how it’s positioned on a publisher’s list or catalog. They care about the story. Not only that, when they like the story, they tell their friends. And their librarians. And their hairdresser. And the next thing you know, the book is a bestseller.

Against all odds, the first edition of The You I Never Knew made the USA Today bestseller list. Thanks to readers, the book is still in print, in a fresh new edition this week.

The You I never Knew 2016

The latest edition – in stores now!

The You I never knew-SP

the 2010 edition

 

 

 

 

So after telling you about the process of writing a novel, I promised to talk about cover art. How does a publisher get that sucker all spiffed up and ready for the bookstore?

Oh, so carefully. Most publishers have an entire dedicated art department whose sole purpose is book design–the image, the fonts, endpapers, you name it.

Back when I was self-publishing, I designed my own.

bringing you bad books since the age of 8

bringing you bad books since the age of 8

p10603411

Art was not my forte, clearly.

Book cover art is the topic of endless and passionate debate among writers and people in publishing.

Because it matters so freakin’ much. It’s the reader’s first glimpse of your work. You’ve got a split second to grab her attention. And in that split second, you have to convey that a) this is YOUR kind of book and b) it’s a particularly great read and c) she should just ignore all those other books on the shelf nearby that are vying for attention.

How does a book get from the mess on my living room floor…

Barkis is bored. He just doesn't get it.

Barkis is bored. He just doesn’t get it.

…into the reader’s hands?

Buy a book from Wendy!

You need not just a beautiful cover, but the RIGHT cover. For example, this cover is beautiful:

Where's the romance?

Where’s the romance?

…but it doesn’t scream “sweep-you-away-historical-romance” the way this one does:

Sexy tiiime!

Sexy tiiime!

The Drifter reissue

They’re all nicely done, but guess which one sold the best? Yep, the one that looked the most romantic, dramatic and compelling to the reader most likely to enjoy that kind of book.

After the original edition of The Drifter was published, the art department took another look at what my books were about and what my readers love–romance, fantasy, passion. So my next book, THE CHARM SCHOOL, went through a major transformation. Here is the cover-in-progress:

I sent my editor a little thumbnail image from a book of clipart. I just thought it was pretty. The main character was a bookworm with a rich fantasy life, and this image made me think of her:

Clip art that inspired The Charm School cover

Thanks to my very smart editor, she got this sketch out of the art department, and I knew we had a winner on our hands:

sketch for Charm School cover

I was hoping it would turn into a pink valentine of a book because, well, we readers love pink valentines. And Lo:

Now, THAT's a cover.

Now, THAT’s a cover.

Flowers, purple foil, generous endorsement from iconic romance author. It even had a peek-a-boo window with a glimpse at the illustration inside. And although the real Isadora looked like this:

Isadora, the main character of THE CHARM SCHOOL

Isadora, the main character of THE CHARM SCHOOL

…she got a makeover for the cover art. This image is inside the front cover. It’s known as a “step-back.”

ready for action

ready for action

I’m proud to say, The Charm School was my first national bestseller. The book got good reviews, won some awards, made some best-of lists, but I credit the sales to the right cover on the right book. 

Oh, and here–with apologies to the redoubtable Erik Larson–is my nomination for the worst book cover ever. On one of the best books, ever.

Foreign edition of Erik's iconic work, Devil in the White City, with unfortunate cover art.

Foreign edition of Erik’s iconic work, Devil in the White City, with unfortunate cover art.

I was a storyteller before I could speak in fully formed sentences, or write words on paper. I know this because I have the kind of mom who tended to save things she deemed important—like a toddler’s markings on an old church collection envelope, or stick-figure drawings featuring imaginary characters. This is how I know that all my stories have always been about the same thing—an ordinary girl, facing extraordinary circumstances, whether it’s a kid up a tree with Bad Things after her…or a lonely young woman who suddenly discovers a family she’s never known.

But that’s just the spine of the story. For me, the magic happens when I discover just the right setting and tone for the story to unfold. I created the town of Archangel, in glorious Sonoma County, as the setting for THE APPLE ORCHARD, because I wanted to evoke that golden, sweep-you-away quality that comes over the reader as she sinks into the world of the story.

Besides the setting, my favorite aspect of this story is that often, the key to the present is found in the past, sometimes deeply buried. As Tess, the main character, uncovers the hidden dramas that have brought her to THE APPLE ORCHARD, she uncovers her own heart’s desire.

BIG NEWS: THE APPLE ORCHARD (have I mentioned the title enough?) is 50% off when you preorder from Barnes&Noble on April 3 and 4 only. So grab a copy for yourself, and maybe order an extra for your mom, your BFF, your local library…I do love a sale!

Susan Wiggs

Pre-Order The Apple Orchard today!

Susan Wiggs - The Apple Orchard

Today is the official pub day of Return to Willow Lake. I’m so grateful to all the readers who helped make it a bestseller in hardcover. Now, paperback fans will find it in stores. You can also find the book in audio and digital formats, and in lots of different languages.

The hardcover edition was published during an exciting time in my life.

And I’m excited about the paperback, but for me, there’s something bittersweet about the publication of this particular book. When I first conceived the story, I knew I would be dealing with some big issues

Join Susan on Facebook

Just out in paperback

. However, I didn’t know how personal the central issue would become for me.

One of the storylines in the novel involves a young woman returning home to help her mother through the ordeal of breast cancer. Now, on the eve of the paperback publication, I’ve discovered that one of my best friends has just been diagnosed with cancer.
Loretta is a wife, a mom, a sister, a friend. She’s facing the fight of her life.

So in addition to the dedication in the printed book, I would like to unofficially dedicate the paperback edition to my beloved friend, Loretta. She’s sharing her journey on a blog, and I’m so proud of the courage and humor in her writing, and in the responses from her friends and family. Here’s a link to her most heart touching post. Keep the Kleenex handy. You’ve been warned.  http://blog.lorettastanton.com/?p=114#comments

I love when people ask me questions about books, writing and reading.

Thank you so much for this opportunity! You can find a downloadable high resolution photo on my web site here: http://susanwiggs.com/press.shtml
10 Questions for Susan Wiggs
1. What was your favorite book as a child?
SW: I loved so many books as a child, it’s hard to narrow it down. Yertle the Turtle by Dr Seuss was the first I bought with my own money. I sobbed over You Were Princess Last Time about a girl whose mean sister cut off her long, beautiful hair (I had long, beautiful hair.). Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White was one I read again and again. The whole world is in that book–life, death, friendship, family, loyalty, humor, pathos, suspense, drama and an uplifting ending…everything I hope readers find in my own books.
2. What is your favorite book right now?
SW: An unfinished novel called Daisy+Logan+Julian, by my favorite author (me).  I’m not being facetious; I really do love this book and I’ve wanted to write it for a long time. It’s about continuing characters from past books, and I can’t wait to write their story. But I do have to wait, because I have other deadlines to meet. Soon, though!
3. What book do you like to give away as a present?
SW: I Like You by Amy Sedaris–it’s everyone’s childhood in one big, funny book. Meeting God In Quiet Places by F. LaGarde Smith is a comforting book about walking, meditation and prayer. And Literary Feasts, a cookbook with photos and recipes by famous authors with an intro by chef Greg Atkinson; the proceeds go to raise money for libraries.
4. What book are you reading right now?
SW: The Reserve by Russell Banks, about privileged families at an Adirondack Mountain retreat in the 1930s. It’s wonderful!
5. What book have you always wanted to read, but haven’t yet gotten around to?
SW: The da Vinci Code by Dan Brown. I believe I’m the only person on the planet who hasn’t read it yet.
6. What book would you have liked to have written yourself?
SW: Same answer as #2 above–the book about Daisy from my series, The Lakeshore Chronicles. I wish I was already done with that book! I feel so much pressure to do a good job on that book, I’m almost afraid to start it. I don’t want my readers to feel let down.
7. What book (not your own) should have made the bestseller lists?
SW: Love in Bloom by Sheila Roberts–a book about all the loves that fill a woman’s life. It’s wonderful, the kind of novel you want to share with all the women you know. And Oxygen by Carol Cassella, an absorbing page-turner with a huge heart and many intriguing twists. Both books deserve a wide audience.
8. Who is your favorite fictional hero?
SW: David Copperfield (I’m a sucker for writers in novels), Huckleberry Finn, Edmond Dantes (The Count of Monte Cristo) and Frodo Underhill from The Lord of the Rings. All of them were such strivers; they never gave up. My favorite romantic hero is (no surprise) Fitzwilliam Darcy from Pride and Prejudice.
9. Who is your favorite fictional heroine?
SW: Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh–she inspired me to be a writer. Jo March from Little Women –another writer who never gave up. And Jane Eyre, who never gave up on love.
10. What is your “guilty” reading pleasure?
SW: I never, ever feel guilty about reading anything. All reading is good. Books that are dismissed as frivolous by some readers can be life-changing for others, so I would never want anyone to feel guilty for reading anything. I sure don’t!
Thank you!

10 Questions for Susan Wiggs

1. What was your favorite book as a child?

Hello, Charlotte!

Hello, Charlotte!

SW: I loved so many books as a child, it’s hard to narrow it down. Yertle the Turtle by Dr Seuss was the first I bought with my own money. I sobbed over You Were Princess Last Time about a girl whose mean sister cut off her long, beautiful hair (I had long, beautiful hair.). Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White was one I read again and again. The whole world is in that book–life, death, friendship, family, loyalty, humor, pathos, suspense, drama and an uplifting ending…everything I hope readers find in my own books.

2. What is your favorite book right now?

SW: An unfinished novel called Daisy+Logan+Julian, by my favorite author (me).  I’m not being facetious; I really do love this book and I’ve wanted to write it for a long time. It’s about continuing characters from past books, and I can’t wait to write their story. But I do have to wait, because I have other deadlines to meet. Soon, though!

3. What book do you like to give away as a present?

SW: I Like You by Amy Sedaris–it’s everyone’s childhood in one big, funny book. Meeting God In Quiet Places by F. LaGarde Smith is a comforting book about walking, meditation and prayer. And Literary Feasts, a cookbook with photos and recipes by famous authors with an intro by chef Greg Atkinson; the proceeds go to raise money for libraries.

4. What book are you reading right now?

SW: The Reserve by Russell Banks, about privileged families at an Adirondack Mountain retreat in the 1930s. It’s wonderful! And Save the Cat by Blake Snyder, who passed away suddenly this August. 😦 Wonderful book on storytelling.

5. What book have you always wanted to read, but haven’t yet gotten around to?

SW: The da Vinci Code by Dan Brown. I believe I’m the only person on the planet who hasn’t read it yet.

6. What book would you have liked to have written yourself?

SW: Same answer as #2 above–the book about Daisy from my series, The Lakeshore Chronicles. I wish I was already done with that book! I feel so much pressure to do a good job, I’m almost afraid to start it. I don’t want my readers to feel let down.

7. What book (not your own) should have made the bestseller lists?

SW: Love in Bloom by Sheila Roberts–a book about all the loves that fill a woman’s life. It’s wonderful, the kind of novel you want to share with all the women you know. And Oxygen by Carol Cassella, an absorbing page-turner with a huge heart and many intriguing twists. Both books deserve a wide audience. In the children’s arena, Looking for Bapu by Anjali Banerjee and Coffeehouse Angel by Suzanne Selfors should have been bestsellers.

8. Who is your favorite fictional hero?

SW: David Copperfield (I’m a sucker for writers in novels), Huckleberry Finn, Edmond Dantes (The Count of Monte Cristo) and Frodo Underhill from The Lord of the Rings. All of them were such strivers; they never gave up. My favorite romantic hero is (no surprise) Fitzwilliam Darcy from Pride and Prejudice. Restraint can  be so sexy. I wish someone would explain that to Barkis.

9. Who is your favorite fictional heroine?

SW: Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh–she inspired me to be a writer. Jo March from Little Women –another writer who never gave up on her dream, even when her bratty sister burned her manuscript. I cried harder then than I did when Beth died! And Jane Eyre, who never gave up on love.

10. What is your “guilty” reading pleasure?

SW: I never, ever feel guilty about reading anything. All reading is good. Books that are dismissed as frivolous by some readers can be life-changing for others, so I would never want anyone to feel guilty for reading anything. I sure don’t!

Real quick–what’s wrong with these pictures?

won the Holt Medallion

won the Holt Medallion

was a RITA finalist

was a RITA finalist

also a RITA finalist

also a RITA finalist

Quick answer: nothing. Not a blessed thing. Well, except  maybe they didn’t sell so well back in the early 90s, which put the author’s survival (sales-wise) in jeopardy.

Still, they look like lovely, interesting books. They even have inside illustrations of freakishly good-looking embracing couples, kind of a bodice-ripper secret bonus. I’ve always been fond of that kind of little grace note in my historical romances. English majors recognize the titles as snippets from the Bard Himself, everyone’s favorite Elizabethan, Shakespeare.

Forsooth! So how come those self-same books now look like this?

new duds for an old fave

new duds for an old fave

blonde ambition

blonde ambition

sexy stuff

sexy stuff

Multiple Choice:

  • A. to introduce old books to new readers who might have missed them the first time around
  • B. to dupe readers with a Vast Publishing Conspiracy

According to a number of bloggers, it’s Answer B.

But I kind of wish they’d checked in with me before declaring me a shameless hussy (which we all knew already). To clear up the misconceptions, here are some myths and realities of modern commercial publishing:

Myth: Publishers are greedy and will do anything to make a buck.

Reality: Publishers love books. They love readers. The people I work with in publishing are book geeks who want nothing more than to evangelize books and authors they love. In the 23 years since I sold my first book, I’ve never heard someone in publishing say, “Let’s fool people into buying a sub-par product.” In commercial publishing, the goal is to appeal to the widest possible readership.

Myth: New titles? Seriously???

Reality: Are you a Georgette Heyer fan? Did you enjoy Powder and Patch? Were you aware that the book was first published in 1923 as “The Transformation of Philip Jettan“? By somebody named “Stella Martin”? Oh, and guess what else? For her reissue, my gal Georgette cut some stuff, including the final chapter, before its republication in 1930. If Georgette can do it, so can the rest of us.

Out of print books are reprinted with new titles all the time. It’s been done by the likes of Stephen King, Sandra Brown, Catherine Coulter, Dean Koontz…and some–like Koontz–change both the title and the author’s name for the reissue. A few people might have read books by Leigh Nichols. But everybody reads Dean Koontz.

There are a lot of reasons for this. Not every title can be perfect and timeless. Sure, you’ve got Gone With the Wind and The Thornbirds…but you also have “The Transformation of Philip Jettan” and things of that ilk, which are sorely in need of a makeover. I actually have a couple of titles I don’t love.

Did my original Shakespearean titles need a makeover? When I was asked, I said no. Actually, I said HELL NO. But my publisher is used to hearing this from me. And they know when all is said and done, I will park my ego at the door and listen to their rationale and 99% of the time, I’ll be persuaded. Confession time: When I saw the proposed artwork, I was similarly not thrilled. But I was made a believer by the reaction of booksellers and readers everywhere. There is a lot of excitement surrounding this re-release.

Myth: A reissued book is dumbed down.

Reality: A reissued book is often word-for-word, identical in text to the original. (Lord of the Night even used the same cold type, I believe.) But sometimes, the reissue has been edited and/or updated. I like to think I’m a better writer now than I was 15 years ago. So I jumped at the chance to revise the Tudor Rose books. They’re cleaner now, more dramatic and smoother. Trust me, you won’t miss the stuff I cut: “What ho, varlet! Draw your weapon!” We don’t really need that, do we?

Myth: Reissues are a new ploy by publishers to get us to buy books we already own.

Reality: Based on the sales numbers for the original publications, you don’t own the books. Nobody but my mother, my hairdresser, and a hapless shopper who stumbled into a booksigning in 1994 owns the books. Reissues are a service to readers who are interested in early books of an author they’ve recently discovered. Now, if you do own the books, I have just two words for you: Thank you.

Myth: You can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear.

Reality: True, but you can give the cover a makeover. Books are repackaged with new cover art all the time. In fact, I love it when a smart publisher takes a classic and sexes it up with great art to get the attention of new readers.

Seriously, which novel would you be more likely to read?

classic naughtiness

classic naughtiness

same story, different duds

same story, different duds

So here’s today’s Super Special Offer. Post a comment below and you’re automatically entered. A virtual drawing via http://www.random.org will determine the winner of both editions of my new/old book–Circle in the Water, and At the King’s Command. Sound like a plan?

Post now! Tell me your thoughts about reissued books!

What’s on your list? Mine is ever-changing, but here are a few of the latest and greatest. Reminder: books are free from your local library.

  • Sarah’s Key by Tatiana de Rosnay. See my earlier post about the cover art on this one. It’s now a bestseller. 🙂
  • South of Broad by Pat Conroy. I’m also a huge fan of his wife, Cassandra King, who is fun to hang out with at festivals.
  • Lisa Tucker’s The Promised World
  • Barbara Bretton, Laced with Magic
  • The Crowning Glory of Calla Lily Ponder by Rebecca Wells, and Sherrie, Carol and I will be at her book launch event next week, 7/14!
  • While My Sister Sleeps by Barbara Delinsky (plus I want the top she’s wearing in her author photo)
  • Alice Hoffman, The Story Sisters
  • Luanne Rice, The Geometry of Sisters (whoa–are “sister” books the next big thing?)
  • Home Safe by Elizabeth Berg
  • new untitled books by the members of my writers’ group: Anjali Banerjee, Carol Cassella, Sheila Roberts, Suzanne Selfors, Elsa Watson
  • Very Valentine by Adriana Trigiani
  • Don’t Tempt Me by Loretta Chase
  • Russell Banks, The Reserve
  • Handle with Care by Jodi Picoult
  • Dark of Night by Suzanne Brockmann
  • Re-read a classic – Peyton Place by Grace Metalious. Prepare to be surprised. It’s shockingly excellent. The prudish attitudes remind me of the…of the former administration.
Sound off! What’s on your list?

So as you well know by now, I am obsessed by book covers. It’s all part of my obsession with books. Now I need your opinion on an upcoming cover. Just Breathe has a strong, sophisticated cover, clean and light, with a single evocative image:

it was a bestseller

it was a bestseller

Next hardcover is Lakeshore Christmas. Marketing-wise, this cover has a big job to do. It needs to straddle the line between a hardcover and the Lakeshore paperbacks. It needs to attract readers who have never heard of me but who might want to give it a try. It needs to be memorable. It currently looks like this:

it wants to be a bestseller

it wants to be a bestseller

The shot above is an early mockup that was sent. The title is wrong (no “A”) but the general idea is there. Next we saw the full jacket. I’m sure I don’t have to tell you what I think of Barkis’s star turn:

book jacket laid flat

book jacket laid flat

There are a couple of tweaks. The title script is nicer, I think, though my agent wanted my name bigger. There’s a #1 in front of “New York Times” which makes me proud and could be a selling point. I don’t love the text at the very top and hope they’ll move that. It looks cluttered, and remember, we want this to appeal to people who haven’t yet discovered the series, so it’s not much of a hook and might be off-putting to people who don’t want to read a book out of order.

The Lakeshore Chronicles have a “look”–small-town charm in miniature. In that sense, this cover works. It’s a pretty image, too. Reminds me of those little collectible Christmas villages. No complaints about that. The question is, will it stand out? When you view Just Breathe from across the bookstore, the image grabs your attention. The Christmas cover…maybe not.  My concern–the eye doesn’t know where to go. To the couple on the bench? The gazebo? There isn’t something strong, standing out. Up against all the other books on the shelf, it might end up looking like wallpaper. At this point, it probably can’t be radically changed, but there could be some tweaking. My thought is maybe they could bring up the light around part of the image–maybe the gazebo and tree?–to give book browsers something to focus on. Better yet, it needs to look like something they want to take home with them. C’mon, put on your art-director hat and chime in.

Well, Just Breathe had a spectacular run on the bestseller lists. Thank you readers for many weeks! You are the best.

Please accept this song as a small token of my gratitude. I just love this singer/songwriter. She is completely dreamy. Plus she wants us all to be okay.

[“Keep Breathing” by Ingrid Michaelson]

life is good: nyt-bsl-51709 

dawn of a very good day

dawn of a very good day

 

 

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